We all have aches and pains. The goal is to have as few of them as possible and deal with them as quickly as possible, but they happen. Some pain is acute. This kind of pain may be from tripping on a root while in a trail run or from a tough workout the day before. Although it’s acute and likely as a direct result of a previous event, we still need to be conscious of it and do what we can to help it. Often however, we can work through this pain and not aggravate it further. In fact, sometimes working through these minor bumps and bruises, soreness, or tightness can lead to an increase in blood flow, range of motion, and lead to improvements in the issue.
Other pain is chronic. This pain could have been lingering for weeks, months, or even years. This is the pain we need to be careful of, take care of, and avoid movements that bother it.
Some of these chronic issues may be preventing us from doing things in our workouts. Regardless of the desire, we first need to rest, rehab, and see what we can do to progress the rehabilitation of the area and get rid of the issue altogether. If all goes well, we can progressively add back in exercises that previously caused issues.
Unfortunately, long term chronic damage may have occurred and a full recovery may not be possible. Now we ask: what movements bother you and how much do they affect your life. Let’s use the snatch and deadlift as our primary examples. The deadlift is a vital exercise for life - all it entails is picking something up and down from the ground, so you need to do this a lot! If a deadlift bothers you, we need to fix it as best as possible and occasionally work through the pain. We can take some time off of it, but eventually we need to return to it in some sort of capacity. You need this movement to live. The snatch however is another story. Unless you need to snatch in life for competitive reasons, pain during the movement might be an inevitable exclusion of this lift. Sure we can constantly try to improve the movement patterns that are not allowing us to achieve a safe, effective snatch. However, we may never be adding load in this movement – it’s just not necessary. We can achieve similar goals of the snatch in the clean, kettlebell swings, pressing movements and box jumps.
So ask yourself – what is this pain and what am I doing to fix it. We should not be in pain, especially during our exercise. Our workouts are supposed to be a time that we enjoy. When we push in a workout it should be because we are pushing our limits to failure, not pushing ourselves into injury.
Why do we teach people how to swim, but not how to run? Back in my swimming days, technique was constantly analyzed from the age group to collegiate level – our form was never perfect and we constantly worked to improve it. So why is it that we neglect all things technique when it comes to running. I just can’t be convinced we all run a certain way and need our shoes and our injuries to match our “natural” form.
Below are the four most important things to consider with your run technique. Revisit these often and complete drills before runs to be able to “feel” what you should be doing.
You should be maintaining proper posture with a straight line from the top of your head to your feet. Shoulder blades should be slightly pinched and eye gaze forward. Breaking of this posture will lead to lower back pain, inefficient running, and slower paces.
The Drill: Check your head position by putting your pinky and thumb on your collar bone (like a Hawaiian shaka or hang loose sign). Then straighten out your index finger and rest your chin on top of it. This will put your head into position and begin the process of your whole body being in alignment.
Gravity moves at 9.8 meters per second squared. That’s a hell of a lot faster then you will ever run. So use gravity to your advantage! Create a falling sensation that puts the body at a slight forward angle. Now use your feet to keep up with your fall, rather than propelling you forward. You should feel as if you stopped moving your feet, you would fall into the ground. This fall uses gravity to your advantage, increases economy, increases speed, and saves energy!
The Drill: Stand about a foot away from a wall. Standing with great posture, fall towards the wall from the hips while keeping the toes grounded. Catch yourself in a push-up position against the wall. Repeat 10 times. This is the falling sensation you should feel while running, but instead of catching yourself against the wall, you will be propelling yourself forward.
Tip: Fall from the hips rather than the chest to avoid losing your midline posture and stabilization.
Feel your Heels
While we fall, we want to repetitively move our feet to avoid crashing into the ground. Do so by lifting the feet from the heels instead of lifting the knees. When we lift and recovery our stride from the knees or toes, we are predominately using our hip flexors to perform the motion. Because the hip flexors are a small muscle group, they will begin to fatigue quickly. Instead, use the larger muscles of the hamstrings by pulling the feet up through the heels.
The Drill: Stand with your back against the wall. One leg at a time, drag the heel to about mid shin height and back to the ground. This lifting of the heels to raise the foot off the ground will activate the hamstrings. Use this feeling while running.
Just like jumping rope, you should be landing under the body, on the forefoot, with a quick cadence. Use the innate shock absorbers of the ankle, knee, and hip to absorb impact. Landing under our body’s center of gravity will enable you to spend less time on the ground, increase running economy and help to avoid injury by not over striding.
Use these 4 major points to check out your running technique. All the above is not mastered immediately and must be practiced. Gradually progress yourself into any new technique or running program by not increasing your time in this new form for more than 10% of the previous run. Although injury can occur by running incorrectly, it is more often associated with progressing mileage too quickly.
The IT Band, or the iliotibial band, is a band of thick fascia on the outside of the knee. It is responsible for stabilizing the knee, especially during running. When the band continually rubs over the lateral femoral epicondyle, is constantly stressed due to the flexion and extension of the knee, and repeatedly stressed by impact forces of running, the area is likely to become inflamed. This can cause extreme tenderness of the IT band and knee pain, often diagnosed as IT Band Syndrome.
Technique - The number one way to limit your running career is to land on your heels. Heel striking it the single worst thing we can do for our body. With all the impact forces going straight up our leg upon impact, it will cause a number of issues to happen to your body, but your IT Band and knee will be suffering greatly. Land softly by mimicking jumping rope and land under your center of gravity on your forefoot. This will decrease impact forces to almost zero and not cause additional strain on the IT Band. Additionally, be sure you are landing with a relatively straight foot. It can have a slight turn outward, but be sure not to externally rotate your foot too much which will cause shortening of the IT Band.
Progression - Ensure through any exercise discipline that you are progressing properly. If starting a new running program be sure to not increase your mileage too quickly. Many believe you should never run more than 10% in a linear progression. I think you can up that a bit to about 20-25%. So, if you run 1 mile on your first day of running, you shouldn't be running more than 1.25 miles on your next run.
Rest Days - Unless an event calls for it, never run on consecutive days. Regardless of how amazing your run technique and how precisely you are progressing your miles, running is tough on the body. Take rest days between runs.
Mobility - even if you aren't currently feeling issues, you should still be taking care of your IT Band, especially if you are a runner. Check out the treatment options below and hit a couple of those each week for IT Band Maintenance.
Foam Roller - DO NOT ROLL LENGTHWISE OF THE IT BAND! This will cause the IT Band to smash into the quad and will not heal your pain. Although it might cause temporary relief, instead roll side to side on the IT Band or flex and extend the knee on tender spots. This will release the IT band from the quad and ease inflammation.
Lax Ball - Use the lacrosse ball to roll the IT Band side to side either against the wall or in the ball of your hand. Remember to not roll too much as it can create more damages and we need the area to repair itself. Roll only once a day for 2 minutes or so on each side.
Mobility - Since you cannot stretch the thick and strong fascia of the IT Band, you will need to focus your efforts on the gluts and hip flexors. Low Lizard Pose, Pigeon Pose and Couch Stretch are some of my favorite stretches for these areas. Remember, you should be holding each stretch for 2 minutes on each side to really promote change.
Sean Spire is the Head Coach of ASL. He was a competitive swimmer who discovered CrossFit and Ironman Triathlons. He has his BS in Exercise Science from Florida State University.